College of Charleston will pay $20,000 to settle free speech lawsuit over rejected student club

The club and its founders were represented by an anti-gay conservative nonprofit

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The College of Charleston has settled a lawsuit filed by two students whose club was denied official status last year.

The public college will pay the Alliance Defending Freedom, the group representing the students, $20,000 in legal costs and attorneys' fees, according to a settlement filed in U.S. District Court on Tuesday.
The college walked back its denial and recognized the group in question, the South Carolina Politics Club, as a registered student organization (RSO) in May, according to court documents. That status is important because it allows them to access meeting rooms, funds, and other resources reserved for official clubs, the suit argued.

The College of Charleston declined to comment on the settlement, which will be paid out from the South Carolina Insurance Reserve Fund.



Attorneys for the ADF represented Jeremy Turner and Adam Gainey, who alleged that administrators denied their RSO application in the Spring 2018 semester. Administrators told the students that the Politics Club was too similar to a registered group that already existed, they said.

As part of the settlement, the College also agreed to change its policy on how it approves school clubs.

"This policy change ensures that the South Carolina Politics Club and all student organizations can operate in that marketplace on an equal playing field that doesn’t permit discrimination based on viewpoint," said ADF lawyer Caleb Dalton in a blog post on the ADF's website Wednesday. "We commend the College of Charleston for agreeing to make policy changes that respect students’ constitutionally protected freedoms."

The ADF has been designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The conservative Christian nonprofit is known for its involvement in anti-LGBTQ cases and legislation across the country.

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